How does Power BI compare with Excel for data analytics?

My experience

Imagine a very complex Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, then imagine you have multiple sheets full of walls of text and numbers, outdated graphs and a maze of complex calculations that you can’t follow easily.

Take that document, drop it in Power BI and watch as it automatically finds relationships, creates a clear and easily editable relationship diagram, converts your sheets to Fields and organises the columns into these fields. Tick the information you want to display, select a visual (if it hasn’t already done that for you) and share your report with your colleagues over 365 without all the sensitive data you had access to, without having to download a thing. Magic.

I haven’t had exposure to Power BI’s predecessor ‘Power Pivot’, an Excel add-on that seems like it does what Power BI does, but not as fancy and less powerful. New features are still being suggested, and added by Microsoft to make Power BI even better.

Because I’m new to the whole analytics scene, I’ve had to do lots of reading. Power BI has some serious infrastructure, supporting DAX, Power query M, SQL, MDX, and R, Plugins such as Azure Blob storage, GitHub, Facebook, Twitter, Google Analytics, MailChimp, Salesforce and many more.

The search bar is where you can ask ‘how many sales did this department make in the UK’

From what I understand, Power BI compiles your data into a faster language using less space, to manipulate and send large files more quickly than waiting around for a large spreadsheet file to upload and download. This is great not having to haul around files every time you make a change or share your report. Ask your report a question!

Once you’ve created a report on the desktop application, you can publish your report to the lightweight web app which includes a search bar. This search bar is where you can ask ‘how many sales did this department make in the UK’, Power BI will create you a heat map! Including the appropriate data set and filtering that by the department you mentioned. Also, Cortana (Microsoft’s virtual assistant) can be implemented… but let’s not run before I can walk.

Power BI has opened a whole new opportunity for me to learn how analytics can benefit business and even daily life. From analysing twitter feeds to understanding employee timesheet data; creating relationship diagrams, to creating a whole new system with interactive visuals and comparisons based on business inventory.

Every day I’m discovering something new with Power BI, it’s very powerful, very clever, and was created to make analyst’s lives easier, and maybe to create data analysts out of the everyday worker. There is much more for me to learn, but if you’re interested in analytics I recommend giving the software a trial.

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